Thursday, January 28, 2010

Larry, The Dobro Guy

I first met dobro player Larry Stevens back in 1999, and we spent the next couple of summers busking together around town. We played mostly as a duo, although for a short time in ‘99 we played as a trio with Earl Purvis (mandolin/vocals), and in the summer of 2000, Tjac Townsend joined us on resophonic guitar. We usually would do a noon set at the north corner of the lower causeway, then uptown to Bastion Square for a mid-afternoon set, and then back down to the harbour where we’d do an early evening set at the Wax Museum.

I had a lot of fun hanging out and playing those two summers with Larry, and when I started this blog, he was one of the musicians that I’d put on my list of people that I was hoping to do an interview with.

In early October, I thought “why not kill two birds with one stone,” and so I phoned Larry and asked him if he wanted to bring his dobro down for a set and we could do the interview before we started.

CD – When did you start playing the dobro?
Larry – How it turned out, was these friends of mine were all players, you know, guitar players, mandolin players, and I didn’t play anything at the time, so, I’m blessed with a half decent voice, so I was the singer, but, after a while I got kinda tired of singing two or three songs over the night and not being able to participate in the playing. Because I had a big liking for country music, my friends decided “Oh, Larry should play pedal steel.” So we had been on a trip to Winnipeg and met this gentleman named Wayne Link, who was a pedal steel player, and he made steels as well, so these guys unbeknownst to me manoeuvred this deal, and I ended up one weekend going out to Namao Beach (near Edmonton AB) to my friend Dennis’s, and here’s this steel sitting there, “Well, here you go, Larry.” The unfortunate part about it, was it wasn’t really a beginners model (laughs), it had five levers, and four pedals, or whatever it was, so I was lost basically. I started trying to learn it, and it was a struggle.
Then I got a job working up in the Arctic islands, and I was thinking “Well, I don’t want to be packing an amp and a pedal steel with me” so I thought about it, and decided to trade in the steel and I bought myself a dobro and took it up north with me, and with the help of Dennis, he got me started, and I sort of self taught myself from there until I actually got up enough nerve to finally go to a workshop, and start learning how to play the thing properly, so to speak (laughs). So it was kind of an interesting story, how it all evolved. And I don’t play anything else, don’t play guitar, or mandolin, or anything, just dobro’s more than enough for me.

CD – Who are your musical influences? I know you’ve mentioned Jerry Douglas a few times.
Larry – Yeah, he’s definitely an influence. I guess Shot Jackson was the first dobro player I heard, he played with Johnny & Jack. And Cliff Carlisle, who played with Jimmie Rodgers. They were probably the two dobro players I heard first, and then Dennis and Rod, my two friends that were introducing me to bluegrass music at the time, threw on some Josh Graves. That was basically the end of the story there, I went from Josh to Jerry. The list just goes on and on, there’s too many to mention now.

CD – And, you’ve got a bit of a history in the bluegrass scene on the lower mainland, you were in a band in Vancouver?
Larry – Yeah. I was in several bands. I was in the New Nash Ramblers, they won the Bluegrass Band of the Year, back in the ‘80s. Then I was in 5 On A String for a little bit, and then I went on to play in several other bands, and I guess the most memorable for me was the Bluegrass Princesses.
CD – You didn’t have to dress in drag for that one, did you? (laughs)
Larry – No…no we didn’t, but that question has been asked quite a few times (laughs).

CD – What do you remember of our early days busking down here?
Larry – Well, I recall I’d just moved to Victoria, I wasn’t doing anything at the time, and I was going through a bad patch, and I spent a lot of time wandering around. I just remember seeing you on the causeway, and because I liked your choice of material, you were playing country music, which was my favorite, I would stop and listen, and then finally one day I just figured “Well, geez I wonder if he wouldn’t mind a dobro player”, so I just got up and approached you and introduced myself, and asked if you’d mind if I sat in with you the next day, and then it sort of went from there. It helped me occupy my days, and get some playing in, and it always put a little bit of change in my pocket, so a guy could buy a box of Kraft Dinner on the way home (laughs).
CD – And you brought a lot of bluegrass songs to the mix, I’d never actually played any bluegrass prior to that.
Larry – That’s right. And I really liked the little trio we had going there for a while with Earl, that was a lot of fun.
CD – Yeah, I don’t think we did that for very long though, maybe a couple of weeks?
Larry – Long enough for that lady to paint us (laughs). (one of the Bastion Square artists, Bonnie Lee had done a painting of the three of us playing in the square).

CD – Had you ever done any busking before?
Larry – Yeah, I used to busk at Granville Island (in Vancouver), quite a bit in the middle ‘80s. Sometimes it would be with some people who knew each other, and the other times it would be in a band, sort of thing, we used to just get together and play, something to do. “What are you doin’?”, “Oh, well, let’s go down to Granville Island and busk”, just out of the blue, and we’d figure we’d get to go play some tunes, and maybe make a couple of bucks. It was mostly about the fun though, for me playing is. As my good friend Mike Kraft says “Money just cheapens it all” (laughs). I just like playing, so, any opportunity I can get to play, whether it’s for money or not, I’ll take it.

CD – Do you have a memorable busking experience?
Larry – One of them is, we were busking at Granville Island, myself and the New Nash Ramblers, and this gentleman walked up and he threw a $10 American bill in the case, and stood around and clapped, so we had a little bit of a break, and I sort of recognized him, but I wasn’t sure, he just looked familiar. So, when we were done our little set, we stopped and this gentleman approaches us and he said to me “Gee, that’s pretty good dobro playing, “ so I said “Thank you very much,” and I said “My name’s Larry Stevens,” and he says “Oh, pleased to meet you Larry, my name’s Gene Wooten.” Well, Gene Wooten is a fabulous dobro player, and he did country stuff, so anyway, I knew who he was, and I had several records that he’s played on, so it was very “Oh, well, your highness, pleased to meet you” (laughs). Then he asked to play my dobro, and he played a couple of things, so that was one of the highlights for me.

CD – Now you’re a member of the Clover Point Drifters. How long have you been with them?
Larry – Well, we’ve been together ten years, this year. That’s myself, Alan Law, who in his own right is a pretty darn good dobro player and steel player. Mike Kraft plays banjo, George Robinson plays bass and Dan Parker plays mandolin.
CD – And you guys actually did a very prestigious gig playing for former Lieutenant Governor, Iona Campagnolo.
Larry – Yeah, and the new one, we’ve played for Steven Point this (past) summer, so we’ve been there (Government House) twice. We’ve played Butchart Gardens, we’ve done several workshops up around 108 Mile House, and done a couple of little mini-tours around the province, and played around town, and stuff like that, and then of course the Sooke festival, and the Coombs festival, so, yeah, we can be pretty busy. Sometimes we’re not busy.
CD – And, you and the guys have come down and joined me a few times. You remember that night when the big concrete slab dropped into the water while we were playing there?
Larry – Yes, I do. That’s true.

CD – I was talking to Dale (Manason) recently, and he was telling me about your trip in 2000 to Tennessee.
Larry – Yes, we went with Leslie Baker. She put together a Patsy Cline show, and I was lucky enough to be asked by Dale, if I recall correctly, Dale was sort of putting together the musicians, so he asked me and yeah, I’d never been to Nashville, so, that was a lot of fun. We did a BC tour, and played at the groundbreaking for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame that was being built in Jackson, Tennessee, the home of Carl Perkins. Leslie was planning on moving down there and pursuing a musical career and they invited her down to do her Patsy Cline thing, and she’d managed to talk them into allowing her to take us all with her, so that was pretty exciting.
CD – And that was you, Mike Brooks…
Larry – Mike Brooks, Mike Kraft, Dale, I don’t recall the drummer’s name off the top of my head.
CD – So you went to Jackson, and you went to, uh, no you missed the trip to…
Larry – I missed the trip to Memphis. Actually we were playing this set, they had this outdoor stage and they had this rockabilly jam right before we went on, and as the jam went on the volume went up and up and up and up. So, when we came onstage, we were all excited and everything, and Dale just wasn’t thinking, with nerves, so he never thought to check the volume button. I was playing lap steel, and was sitting down, while right at my left ear was Dale’s amp, and by the end of the set my ear was just ringin’ and I mean Dale had turned it down, but, it was just painful. So I ended up staying in the motel room while Mike Kraft and Mike Brooks went down to Memphis, which was too bad I missed (it), but that’s how it goes. Now when I see Dale I’m always giving him “Oh, yeah, my Memphis ear” (laughs).
But, anyway, I did get to go to the Station Inn (in Nashville) twice. It’s quite a hotbed for all kinds of country music, but, its known for acoustic music, as well. So, we caught Kathy Chiavola there one night, and when we were heading back from Jackson and waiting, our plane was late or early in the morning, so we went back to the Station Inn and there was this marvelous Texas-swing band playing, so I was in heaven myself, I just kept yelling out requests, and they just kept playing them. And then Tommy Allsup walked out on stage, he was a guitar player that had played with Bob Wills and Buddy Holly.
So anyway, it was a pretty marvelous trip, we wandered around Nashville, went to Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, the Ryman (Auditorium). We didn’t actually go in, they would only allow you in on tours and there wasn’t a tour going on, so we sort of stuck our heads in the door before they caught us (laughs). We went to Tootsie’s (Orchid Lounge), we went to all those lounges, and you know the bands change in those places every hour, and it goes all day long, and they play for tips and CD sales hoping to get discovered. And it just amazed me how many people were playing on the street, I met this one guy who was a fabulous singer and guitar player and he’d been playing on the street like for three years. So, yeah, it was a wonderful trip, it was a lot of fun. I heard a lot of good bands. That was another highlight of my life ‘cause I never thought I’d ever get there.
CD – Well, you did, and I’m just a little bit envious (laughs).

We finally came to the end of our interview, so we grabbed our instruments and ambled over to our spot on the causeway and set up for a two hour set. Over the years, I have kept a number of the songs that I learned from Larry in my repertoire, but I always enjoy getting reacquainted with some of the others, that I usually only get a chance to play when Larry, the Dobro Guy drops down to the harbour to join me.

For more about Larry and the Clover Point Drifters, be sure to check out their website.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

3rd Time's A Charm: chat with Ian Daykin

Among the abundance of guitarists playing on the streets of Victoria over the years, there have also been a number of fiddlers and violinists bringing their talents to the masses. Two of the newer faces to the local street music scene are Celtic fiddlers Sarah Tradewell (more on Sarah in a future post), and Ian Daykin, who have both been regularly playing on the inner harbour causeway.

In early October, I caught the last 20 or so minutes of Ian’s set on the south corner of the causeway, after which, we headed up Menzies Street in James Bay, looking for a coffee shop where we could chat, and we came across the Travelling Bean Coffee House, where we found some seats in the back corner and began our interview over a snack and a couple of mochas.

Ian, 23, grew up in Port Coquitlam, BC. He has been playing fiddle for the last 2½ years. He has also played guitar over the years, changing styles from rock, to jazz, then to finger-style, and finally classical. Deciding that he wanted to be a music teacher, and needing a degree in classical music to do that, Ian came to Victoria two years ago to study at UVic. In spring of last year, Ian successfully auditioned for a busking spot on the inner harbour causeway.

CD – I know this is your first year busking on the harbour. Have you busked anywhere other than Victoria?
Ian – I’ve tried it maybe a couple of times before, but never with very much success. Once was in Port Coquitlam, way back when I was maybe 13 years old, with my friend Clay. We both played guitar, and we had put together some jazz tunes and stuff that we could kinda solo on. We set up in front of a liquor store, for about fifteen minutes, and then this old drunk guy rambled at us telling us it was his spot, and we had to get outta there. We didn’t really argue with him much (laughs), we just took off. And then we played in front of a Canadian Tire store, and got kicked out about ten or fifteen minutes later, so it was pretty unsuccessful.
I also busked for one day in Nelson, BC, where I had lived for a couple of years. I was playing finger-style guitar then, a bunch of Don Ross tunes, and that kind of stuff, and I was kinda nervous about the whole thing I guess, not about playing in front of people, but just busking itself. It was downtown, but, maybe not as central as I should have been, and so it wasn’t very successful. I didn’t go back.

CD – So, what made you decide to give it another try in Victoria?
Ian – A friend of mine back in PoCo who went to UVic as a music student, said he used to go play drum kit downtown and made pretty good money late at night on Friday and Saturday nights, so he said I should go busk, I guess that made me think about it.

CD – And, how have you been finding the busking here?
Ian – I’m pretty stoked, make some money, hang out in the sun in the evenings after work, you know. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at the fiddle this summer. I study classical guitar at UVic, so I always feel like I never have enough time to practice that as much as I should. I feel like, if I’m playing fiddle, when I should really be playing classical guitar, ‘cause I’m supposed to be spending all this money to go to university, I should put my energy into it you know. But now this kind of legitimized playing fiddle more, so I got to put a lot more time in that than I’ve done before. So that was really good, got to get some more skills going on.
CD – So you could say “third time’s a charm”.
Ian – Yeah.

CD – Do you have a favorite spot?
Ian – I have a bit of a soft spot for the south corner (of the causeway). That and Fisherman’s Wharf I like as well, ‘cause it’s just a lot more laid-back, you know, less people than the causeway, but it’s just a more kind of chilled out scene, which is nice.
CD – And do you do well over there?
Ian – Yeah, it’s been decent, you know, probably similar to the causeway.

CD – Okay, so, the music you do is mostly like traditional fiddle tunes?
Ian – Yeah, I’ve been playing mainly fiddle down on the harbour, traditional Irish tunes, and I’ve also been playing some mandolin and singing, I’m really into the east coast sea-shanty kind of stuff. I do a bunch of Stan Rogers tunes and that kind of thing.
CD – I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with the mandolin down there. So, you bring it out occasionally?
Ian – Yeah, sometimes. Three quarters of the time or maybe more than that, I just play fiddle.
CD – And I noticed that you kind of maybe run two or three songs together in like a medley?
Ian – Yeah, generally with Celtic tunes that’s what you do. You call it a "set", and you put between two and four tunes together, and you pick ones that not necessarily, but most often are in the same or similar key, so that it will kind of flow easier.
CD – Have you spent anytime back east to get in touch with that music?
Ian – Yeah, I have family in New Brunswick actually, so when I was little, we’d be out there every summer, and I’ve been around to P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, and I actually did a student exchange and spent two months in Newfoundland as well. And then my dad plays Celtic music, which is probably the biggest reason that I got into it, ‘cause I started playing guitar when I was 10 or so, and he would be like “Alright, good. Now you can play the chords for me” (laughs), and we’d be pckin’ tunes.

CD – Who are the musicians who maybe have influenced your style? I guess maybe Stan Rogers might be one?
Ian – Yup, I’m into the east coast kind of stuff, I just like that style of singing a capella, so kind of all over the place, with that kind of stuff. Dervish and DanĂº are a couple of Irish bands that play traditional Irish stuff, and they’re probably the biggest influence as far as my fiddle stuff goes.

CD – Do you write any music at all?
Ian – Yup, when I played the finger-style guitar I was performing then and would perform mainly my own tunes. I’ve done a little bit of songwriting, not a lot, but also write Celtic tunes.
CD – By songwriting, you mean with lyrics?
Ian – Yeah, finger-style guitar stuff being instrumental. And then I’d just kind of dabble for my own enjoyment in classical writing too. I’ll try to write little two part inventions.

CD – Do you perform any of your originals on the street?
Ian – No, not with the fiddle. If I was playing guitar then I would. I just figure that the instrumental guitar stuff is so quiet if you have to be unamplified, that I think that people wouldn’t really hear it. What I’ve discovered this summer is that if you wanna be passive and sit in the corner, people are happy to let you sit in the corner, but you’ve got to be pretty energetic and out there to catch people’s attention.

CD – What do you enjoy most about busking.
Ian – Well, I guess it’s the first time I feel like I have consistant gigs every day. It’s pretty nice that way, where as before with classical guitar stuff, I’d get gigs, but they were just few and far between. So, here it’s just like I can go down and play every day, so that’s pretty nice.
CD – And you’re kind of your own boss.
Ian – Yup, nobody tells you when to start and stop. The discipline comes into play there, ‘cause if I’m a little tired or something, especially this summer, I’ve been working painting houses five days a week, so I would play in the evenings and on weekends on the harbour, I would often be pretty tired after work, and it would be easy just to go to bed, instead. It took some will-power to make myself get out there.

CD – Any other thoughts?
Ian – I’ve only busked on the harbour, I’ve never tried it up in the city, but last night I was leaving a concert, the Sub City Dwellers, at like two in the morning, and there was a good lot of people around, and it seemed like nice weather and I thought, that could be pretty good. So, I’m debating about trying to start doing that, it’s kind of poor timing in the year to be starting late night busking when it’s October, it would be better to start that in June. If I can get past that, then it might be good.